by Jeremy Balan
Prior to the 2018 racing season, the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) was one of the elusive gems for trainer John Sadler on his home circuit in Southern California, and he wanted it badly.
Accelerate mercifully ended the drought in a romp that season–and went on to end a more ominous streak in November–but a year later the trainer got to experience what it felt like to sweat out a photo in Santa Anita Park’s premier race for older horses.
Gift Box’s nose victory over favored McKinzie in the 1 1/4-mile test Saturday was a testament to Sadler’s skillful training job with the 6-year-old son of Twirling Candy, who was stuck in the third-level allowance condition for about a year and a half with different connections in New York.
McKinzie, off at 2-5, had dead aim on Gift Box through the length of the stretch, and even had a head in front on the outside with a furlong to run, but the gray battled back on the inside and finished off the distance in 2:03.02 under jockey Joel Rosario to win at odds of 2-1.
It was Gift Box’s second win from as many starts for Sadler and owner Hronis Racing, who also owned Accelerate. His first victory came in the Dec. 26 San Antonio Stakes (G2) and he’s earned $535,000 in those two races.
On Saturday, Gift Box got an ideal stalking trip off early leader Prime Attraction through much of the 10-furlong trek, then poked his head in front around the quarter pole while McKinzie loomed in third.
The spotlight was on the top two for the stretch run, but Mongolian Groom, in his stakes debut, picked up the pieces to get third, a grade 1 placing, and a $70,000 paycheck. After Mongolian Groom came Campaign, Prime Attraction, and Prince of Arabia, to complete the order of finish.
The Big ‘Cap was McKinzie’s second straight runner-up effort as an odds-on favorite. He also finished second at odds of 1-2 to Battle of Midway in the Feb. 2 San Pasqual Stakes (G2). The 4-year-old Street Sense colt trained by Bob Baffert now has more than $1.2 million in earnings.